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If you're looking for a car whose sole purpose is to dominate the racetrack or canyon roads, look no farther than the 2010 Lotus Exige.
Ultralight curb weight, super-sharp steering, racetrack-oriented design, low volume ensures rarity, relatively good fuel economy, uncompromising performance.
Spartan interior with little space, difficult entry and exit, poor outward visibility, rough ride quality, peaky power delivery, limited dealer network.
For 2010, the Lotus Exige is no longer offered in the hard-core S 260 form. The surviving S 240 receives a handful of aerodynamic enhancements that include a slightly restyled front end and a larger, low-drag rear wing. Also, upgraded Ohlins dampers have been added to the optional Track Pack package.
The 2010 Lotus Exige is loud, harsh and unforgiving. And that's just to name a few of its inconveniences. And yet the Exige is so narrowly focused on performance, all other considerations are secondary. The Exige is mentally and physically demanding to drive, requiring all of the driver's attention as well as a decent amount of upper body strength. To the average driver, this vehicle is torturous. To the enthusiast, this is Nirvana.
This automotive bliss starts with one of the lightest chassis ever built for road use. The frame itself is made by chemically bonding aluminum elements together to form an incredibly rigid structure, yet it only weighs about 150 pounds. Together with a lightweight composite body and a conspicuous lack of creature comforts, a fully fueled Exige tips the scales at just a little more than 2,000 pounds. For this reason, the Exige also foregoes the typical sports car's heavy, big-displacement engine in favor of a lightweight 1.8-liter four-cylinder that still provides an impressive horsepower-to-weight ratio.
As if the previous Exige wasn't quite sharp enough, Lotus has further enhanced the model for 2010. Many of these changes can be mistaken as cosmetic tweaks, but in reality, they all serve to improve performance. A revised front end sports a larger air intake to improve engine cooling, and new intakes flanking the main opening feed more air to the twin front oil coolers. In the back, a new, larger rear wing still creates plenty of downforce while also reducing aerodynamic drag. You'll also find new Ohlins shock absorbers in the optional Track Pack.
The changes for this year are likely undetectable from the driver seat, though, since the Exige is already one of the highest-performing vehicles on the road. Up until now, there has been essentially nothing that competes against the tiny Lotus, but Porsche's new Boxster Spyder may also be worth a look. Both are geared toward track enthusiasts, but the Porsche is significantly more livable on a daily basis. The Exige, by comparison, can be punishing. Still, as far as pure sports cars go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more engaging drive than the 2010 Lotus Exige.
The 2010 Lotus Exige is a two-seat, high-performance coupe. It is offered in one trim level, the Exige S 240 (last year's Exige S 260 has been discontinued). Standard equipment includes forged alloy wheels (16-inch front, 17-inch rear), Yokohama Advan A048 high-performance tires, Lotus/AP Racing and Brembo ventilated and cross-drilled brakes, Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, sport seats with Probax anatomical padding, black cloth upholstery, a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, a four-speaker Alpine stereo with a CD player, adjustable traction control and launch control.
Most options are grouped into packages. The Touring Pack includes additional sound insulation, a cupholder, an interior stowage net, a full carpet set, iPod connectivity and leather coverings for the seats, door panels, hand brake and center console. The Track Pack adds manually adjustable springs and Ohlins dampers. A paint-protection film, limited-slip differential and special-order exterior colors are also optional, although some of these colors are more expensive than all the other options combined.
The 2010 Lotus Exige S 240 is powered by a mid-mounted 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Sourced from Toyota, it produces 240 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a six-speed conventional manual transmission. Acceleration is impressive, with Lotus claiming a 0-60-mph run in only 4.1 seconds. Fuel economy is also respectable for a sports car, registering an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
Since the Lotus Exige strives for lightweight, all-out performance, safety equipment is as bare-bones as federally mandated rules allow. Antilock brakes and traction control are included, but side airbags and stability control are not available.
The Exige's cabin is as spartan as you'll find in any car from the last couple of decades. The controls are not very user-friendly (especially the tiny radio buttons) and passengers are surrounded by hard plastics and bare metal. The composite sport seats provide excellent lateral support, but the low fixed roof and wide sills make entry and exit a gymnastic feat for any creature bigger than a Hobbit. A tall driver is likely to find the Exige downright painful, as their right leg can get painfully wedged between the steering wheel and gearlever.
Storage space is similarly limiting; the interior lacks a glovebox, or any notable storage of any kind. The trunk is rated at a laughable 4 cubic feet of capacity, and anything placed there would likely succumb to the stifling heat from the engine and exhaust. The Exige is not a car that has any measure of convenience, since those notions would only serve to diminish its unyielding focus on performance.
The purity of the 2010 Lotus Exige is evident in every aspect of its driving experience. The manual steering, firm brake pedal and tight suspension relay data instantaneously to the driver, but they also deliver the worst parts of public roads directly to your spine. Rear visibility is almost nonexistent, since the rear engine cowl is a mesh screen rather than glass. The brakes provide eye-bulging deceleration without fear of fade. Living with an Exige means sacrificing some comforts and conveniences that have been expected of cars for half a century. But for the right driver, the rewards can be as gratifying as spraying the champagne atop a Formula 1 podium.
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